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Friday, January 21, 2011

Is the iPhone starting to wane?

Recently I came across an article in the Observer that questions if the iPhone is about to lose its mojo. There’s a lot of chatter about interest moving from iPhones to shinier, newer Android phones in the U.S. And some hipsters think the iPhone is becoming a common ‘safe’ option, rather than the cool ‘different’ choice.
I wanted to know if the wider public shares these views, so recently I went out onto the streets of Central London, to talk to some trendy students and other young urbanites to find out if these trends have permeated ‘more mainstream’ life.
What did I find out?
Surprisingly, none of the twenty-somethings I spoke to were aware of the much talked about battle between iPhone and Android. They hadn’t read about it and their friends weren’t talking about it. And whilst they’d heard of ‘Android’, they didn’t understand what it was. Instead, Android seemed quite nebulous to them, spread across lots of devices, not really its own entity, quite difficult to grasp and hold onto. In their eyes, an operating system couldn’t really threaten the iPhone.
Another thing that came out was that the iPhone is still perceived as the coolest phone by fairly mainstream yet trendy young people. There’s just something about the inherent beauty of Apple products that cues coolness and drives a cult following. People I’ve spoken to have practically cooed over the design of the iPhone. But what is it about the design that’s so influential? The answer is partly Apple’s simple design approach - it screams confidence, and confidence is very attractive (there’s a great piece here that goes into more detail on this).
Going further, whilst these youngsters thought of the iPhone as cool, there was a sign of implicit iPhone-boredom starting to bubble beneath the surface. “It’s not new anymore, it’s just a bit improved, we’ve seen it before really” was the verdict from one cool urbanite.
I should point out that none of these consumers had iPhones (or Android phones). They wanted iPhones, but the expense of them (and the long contracts) just made them opt for the next best thing. So instead they had ‘functional’ smartphones with some cool features.
This is where Android gets more interesting. The people I spoke to felt that Android phones probably do what the iPhone does, but at a cheaper price. So Android phones might be an alternative for pragmatists looking for affordable devices. But the jury is out whether it’ll ever really become a strong consumer brand and if others, for example a rejuvenated Nokia might depress its impact out of the US.
So where does this leave the iPhone? Well Android seems to be struggling to get past the early adopters, and the iPhone is still cool to more mainstream consumers. I suspect Android will need to work quite hard to gain the cool status of the iPhone, particularly as Android is an operating system. What Android lacks is the tangibility of beautiful design – and here Apple still reigns supreme.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Touch screen technology has the potential to connect with those who completely missed the Qwerty phase

I discovered this Christmas that my 84 year old Nanna has, for the past few months, been the owner of an iPad. When it comes to technology I thought she peaked when she learned how to set the oven timer.

She never used a laptop, I don't think she'd ever been online before she got this iPad. In one magnificent leap she's cleared the two generations after hers as they toil away on laptops. Whenever I tell people my Nanna has an iPad they're shocked. But, iPads aren't just for cool adland types on their way to another meeting in Lantana. They're also perfect for the elderly of Wolverhampton. Anyone who has ever tried to show an older relative how to do anything on a keyboard computer will have had to put up with a tirade of questions. Questions (quite reasonably) triggered by the computer demanding the user do something counter-intuitive. From the moment you look at a keyboard you have to learn to play by it's rules. You have to accept the alphabet starts with a Q! The generation my grandmother belongs to didn't live through war and rations to be told what to do by a machine. They're not going to wait to be connected and then tediously enter the letter w three times for anyone. (as they were told they had to when they first tried to get online) Touchscreen doesn't demand any such nonsense. If Nanna wants to look at the BBC she taps it with her finger. If she wants to play Scrabble she taps the Scrabble icon. She tap a photo and it appears, she can even simply send the photo to her friends.

Generations after ours will know nothing but the touchscreen either. Like the landline (remember them) it will go down as a technological stepping-stone. Obviously they'll have to type (and probably accept the alphabet can start with Q) but the idea of clicking on things or typing in commands will seem very strange.

It's only us poor few, born in the 60's, 70's or 80's who'll remember how tough it used to be having to hold down CTRL, ALT and DELETE all at the same time.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Three things McDonalds can tell you about Japan...

McDonald’s – the symbol of globalisation and identical the world over, right? Well not quite and I can never resist taking a peek to see what local oddities are on offer. Here in Japan, as elsewhere, the menu is tailored to local tastes. Fast food aficionados looking for something new can gorge themselves on a Teriyaki McBurger, an Ebi-Filet-0-Shrimp or a McPork and if up early enough they can even treat themselves to a Fillet-o-Fish for breakfast. But beyond the variations to the 'cuisine', there are also some less obvious differences to the offer - each of which reveals a little something about Japanese culture. 1. Japan loves innovation & novelty Ok, so not exactly be new news but the ever-changing menu at McDonalds here certainly helps bring it into relief. I arrived at the end of November and I’ve already lost track of the number of special burgers, meals and deals I've seen advertised since. Amongst other things, novelty-seekers have been kept happy with four new 'gourmet' chicken burgers last month and four new American themed sandwiches this month... 2. There has not been the same backlash against ‘fast food’ in Japan as in the West Compared to home there's a noticeable absence of any 'healthy' options on the menu here. Now I’m not sure anybody actually ever buys these in the UK but to firefight years of negative coverage about the quality and nutritional value of their food the chain has had to change it's offer. And despite having made some real changes for the better, including for example removing all trans-fats from their menu - something they still haven't achieved in Japan - I know from research into the subject that the British middle-class still loves to hate McDonalds. In Japan there hasn't (yet) been the same backlash against McDonalds or fast food in general. Of course, it's not seen as a healthy option but it's also not been demonised. As such it's been able to concentrate on what it's good at - unhealthy but tasty (some would say!) burgers. Whether Japan has it's own mini-obesity-epidemic brewing is another question... 3. The Keitai is still alive and kicking in japan Another recent offer has been the novelty 'strap' collection - the second set in a series of collectible McDonalds themed mobile accessories... As I've written before, Japan has recently been undergoing a 'smart-phone' revolution, with the iPhone, which has a resolutely anti-strap design, by far the best-selling mobile of recent months. However, as offers like this show, traditional Japanese mobile (keitai) culture is also still going strong, with dual handset ownership on the rise: a touch-screen 'smart-phone' for Internet and a good old-fashioned keitai for calls - and to attach 'straps' like these to! And just in case you missed the first collection (or if you're in any doubt about the local penchant for mobile collectibles) then not to fear - I recently spotted the whole set up for sale in a local bookstore... Posted by Nick, our man in Tokyo Read more of his thoughts on culture and marketing in Japan on his blog at http://tokyodiaries.wordpress.com